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Arranged marriages in Hong Kong’s ethnic minority communities

By Elaine Tsang and Hilda Lee 

For most people in Hong Kong, choosing a life partner is something they do for and by themselves. Marriage is no longer something decided by parents or families. However, for those from Hong Kong’s ethnic minority communities, love matches are not par for the course and arranged marriages are commonplace.

This is in line with the social preference for arranged marriage in South Asian countries like Pakistan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where many members of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities have their origins. Living and working in Hong Kong, where the concept of love marriage is the mainstream, has not necessarily shaken those traditions.

Most young people in Hong Kong would balk at the idea of an arranged marriage but in fact it is the idea of a marriage based on mutual love that is a relatively new phenomenon. Arranged marriages existed in Biblical times, were the norm during the time of the Roman Empire and in the European monarchies and Chinese society.

Wang Danning, a lecturer in anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the idea of love marriage only arrived in China some 100 years ago.

“[In China], arranged marriage became important to serve as a social function: to help families expand political power, expand social networks and also increase their wealth.”

It was particularly common during the development of agricultural society in China, where women would be married out of their own village and into a new one.

Today, arranged marriage is still practised in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as in South Asia. In an arranged marriage, the bride and groom are selected by a third party rather than each other. Marital partners are usually chosen by parents, community elders or religious leaders who try to play a part in guiding the youths when finding the right person to marry.